More than 1,300 wait longer than four weeks for lockdown mental health help

Stuart Richardson, NSFT chief operating officer. Picture: NSFT

Stuart Richardson, NSFT chief operating officer. Picture: NSFT - Credit: Archant

More than 1,300 people waited longer than four weeks for an assessment from the region’s mental health trust last month, it has been revealed.

The NSFT's service for children and young people on 80 St Stephens in Norwich. Photo: Google Maps

The NSFT's service for children and young people on 80 St Stephens in Norwich. Photo: Google Maps - Credit: Archant

The Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) had 1,307 patients who waited longer than the target of 28 days to be assessed in August, board papers have shown.

It comes as the trust warned 11 people known to its services were thought to have taken their own lives in the past three months.

The figures emerged as bosses said they were “very concerned” about the impact a second, winter wave of the pandemic could have on people’s mental health.

Mason Fitzgerald, deputy chief executive, said: “All the evidence says following pandemics, particularly if unemployment increases, then the risk of suicide increases so that’s something that we are very concerned about.

“We are working with colleagues across local authorities to make sure we’ve got plans in place.”

The board of governors debated the figures during their meeting held on Thursday, September 24.

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Papers found average waits for a routine referral in August were 39.8 days - a drop from 50 days in April - but above the 28-day target.

A total of 1,826 patients waited longer than 28 days in April, compared to 1,307 in August.

The trust also found referrals from were “notably below pre-Covid in all areas”, despite referrals to under-18s teams being above the national average in July.

Stuart Richardson, NSFT chief operating officer (COO), said: “If you’re waiting for support, and you’re having difficulties with your mental health, whether you’re on target or not is not going to make a difference to your life.

“We’re seeing people quicker than we have done previously but what we’re very keen to do is ensure that while people are waiting that they do have access to us through the 24/7 phone line.

“We’re also focusing on waits for children and young people and we’ve put more staff in so we’ve got more assessment slots.

“But also we have online facilities such as Kooth which is an online platform that children and young people really do rate and is having great outcomes.

“They can access it when they’re ready, rather than when we send them an appointment.

“Waits are coming down but the priority is to see everybody in a timely way so it doesn’t impact on their quality of their life.”

However, the trust said demand had been rising since April, with a 42.3pc rise in referrals from June to July 2020, and board papers stated: “Trusts report significant increases in demand for early intervention services, often linked to the wider impacts of COVID-19 such as economic hardship.”

Mr Richardson said the trust saw rising demand as “an outcome of the really difficult time we’re all in” and said: “As a country we may have underestimated the impact that may have on people’s mental health.

“All of us have struggled and what we’re very keen to do is not get into a situation where we signpost people elsewhere.”

The COO previously said the trust expected a 20pc increase in need for its services following the first wave of the pandemic.

“Teams are very busy with a lot of people who we perhaps haven’t known in the past,” he added.

A spokesperson from the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk said: “NSFT cannot again use Covid-19 as a disgraceful excuse to discharge hundreds of patients from mental health services without their consent.

“NSFT goes into the end of the year with out-of-area bed use rising and services failing to meet targets. We’re deeply concerned NSFT will do what it does best: fail those with mental illnesses while managers sit in meetings.”

But Mr Fitzgerald said services were well prepared for the winter.

“We’ve done some learning events across the trust following wave one to pick up both what went well and the things we want to learn,” he said.

“We’ve got staff working well from home providing good levels of contact. We’ve got those services available that we didn’t have for phase one. We’re keeping in close contact with people in the communities.” While Mr Richardson added: “We’ve got a very dedicated group of colleagues and this has become business as usual for them. We’re ready, I feel, for whatever comes ahead now - and sadly if things do change we have the systems in place.”

• The free Samaritans helpline can be accessed by calling 116 123 from anywhere in the UK.